New Year's Eve Thoughts

New Year's resolutions have, I think, fallen somewhat out of favor. If not for the world in general, they have for me--I don't remember the last year I made one.

To mess with matters further, Lou and I planned for the coming year back at the beginning of Advent, which kicks off the liturgical year. Our "year", in other words, runs from November 29, 2009 through November 27, 2010. Which, being a geek, I think is cool.

This year, I've actually returned to the making of resolutions, at least in the form of goals. Here they are:
  • Study Latin.
  • Revise my novel, get it read by a few people, revise again, and query.
  • Get more music recorded and get it--and some of what I did this year--up on the Internet.
Short list, yes, but big goals. Of course, Advent has gone by and I still haven't picked up that Latin book ... though you could say I get some of it by osmosis through learning Gregorian chants and reading the translations thereof. I have, however, worked hard on revision, and am trying to get my poor beat-up voice rested and warmed into decent recording shape.

Here's to 2010, and the new liturgical year too! Happy New Year to all.


Music to Write By

As a general rule, when writing I prefer silence. The wrong music can get into a writer's head and mess with mood, characterization, word flow, and all manner of things that shouldn't be messed with.

I do make exceptions, though. For my non-NaNoWriMo novel, I have playlists for all of my major characters, and sometimes playlists to describe their relationships. Not that I ever actually listen to those playlists while I write. Lou, however, put on the Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade one night while I worked on that novel, and now I can't hear Scheherazade without thinking of that story and seeing its images in my mind.

During November, I went silent except for the NaNoWriMo song. But here's my current writing music for this story:

Hayley Westenra's Celtic Treasure album
Owl City's Fireflies
ALL CAPS' rewrite of Fireflies as a Ron/Hermione duet

... with the last two sometimes alternating over and over, thanks to YouTube (and the linked videos are just wonderful, at least for geeks). At this point I'm probably obligated to buy both versions.

This means that Fireflies has run through my head for days, usually mixed up with the ALL CAPS version, so the lyrics will go something like "I'd get a thousand hugs/From ten thousand Viktor Krums" which is addled to the point of mildly disturbing. But I'm not complaining. I thoroughly love the song in both incarnations, and haven't tired of it yet. Besides, having it run through my head keeps all the annoying Christmas music out.

The original is also a good song for listening to when you can't sleep. I played it quite a few times between four and eight AM on Sunday.

As for Hayley Westenra, she could probably sing just about anything and it would suit my writing mood. But Celtic Treasure has Abide with Me on it, which I linked some time back. I love that piece. It still chokes me up sometimes.


Zombie Post

I tried to write a real post tonight--honest. Couldn't do it. Sleep deprivation has caught up with me, and my creativity is gone.

Even sleepy, though, I find humor in John Mark Reynolds' explanation of the denominational affiliations of the various Bible authors. Enjoy.

As for me, I'll try to come back tomorrow ... with brains.



After three difficult Christmases in a row, we had a comparatively easygoing one this year, thanks be to God.

Lou and I chanted the entirety of first Vespers. We were very proud of ourselves for this, and despite a lot of mistakes, I have to say it was beautiful. For church we went to midnight Mass, and the music was splendid ... just splendid. Worth getting so keyed up that I couldn't sleep till 2:30, even though I had to get up at six on Christmas.

My family hosted Christmas morning for us, as is now traditional--big breakfast, lots of dogs underfoot, Luke 2 and prayer before presents. Everybody loved the little things we brought back from Italy, to my delight. Almost everybody, at least; Grandma's response, when I helped her unwrap the snow globe and placed it in her hands, was "Open it for me"--but at least she was there. Dementia and all, it made me happy to have one more Christmas with her.

At midafternoon we drove back to town and spent the evening with Lou's parents and a couple of family friends. We had exchanged presents with them and Andy and Lindsey earlier, so we relaxed and enjoyed a nice dinner and quiet evening.

As for presents--well, the family on both sides shopped at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, so you know Jenna came home happy. Lindsey even made me a reading pillow with ribbons to hold a book open and mark a place. It works well as a neck pillow, too, when I don't have a book in it. And I've listened to Hayley Westenra (lovely) and read part way into Andrew Peterson's On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (hilarious) and pored over the pictures in the giant book on the Vatican (wondrous; I desperately need to write a post about St. Peter's) and ... well, now I'm going to go work on my own book, because I get separation anxiety when I stay away from it for very long.

Merry Christmas to all. (Hey, it's still officially Christmas till January 6. But if you're really sick of Christmas music and you've put your tree and nativity away, then Happy New Year.)


The End of Advent

Christmas shopping: Officially complete.
Christmas wrapping: Not so complete.
Fruitcake: Also not complete.
Current state of mind: Lost in space, but happy

Lou and I lit all four candles on our Advent wreath tonight, prayed Vespers and chanted the last of the O Antiphons with the Magnificat. Our chanting has improved over the last year--being part of a chant schola helps me a lot--and we made it through the Magnificat, at least, without serious mistakes. The call to Christ, asking him to come, is my favorite part of every O antiphon; just the word veni, simple and full of longing.

Earlier in the day I went shopping at Fred Meyer and hopefully I got everything we need for the next few days, because my story-saturated brain couldn't begin to figure out where I was or what I ought to buy or where to find anything. My IQ must have temporarily dropped 40 points.

I hope that's temporary, anyway.

In case I miss blogging for tomorrow and the holiday itself--which might happen, as I still have to bake fruitcake--Merry Christmas!


On Writing Professionally

Anyone wishing to write professionally [or do anything professionally, really] should read this article by John August. He reminds us all that our work on the internet can count for or against us, and explains the necessary components of professionalism in posting.

Not that anything committed to record has ever been really safe. The world reads Anne Frank's diary (remind me to burn my own before I die) and Jane Austen's letters to her sister.

On the worldwide web, however, we offer samples of our work for uncharted public scrutiny, items that say something about us and count toward whatever image the outside world has of us. Those samples might say things like "I couldn't pass a first-grade spelling test" or "No one ever taught me how and when to shut my mouth" or "Logic and I have never been properly introduced." They might also say "I have a keen creative streak" and "Kindness and reason are my best friends" and "My mother taught me how to present myself with common decency."

The thought scares me a little, but in a good way.


Christmas Decorations

We decorated our Christmas tree last night.

Us, the tree, the nativity, and my purple fuzzy socks, all with mood lighting:

Also, my Christmas cactus decided to put its heart and soul into blooming this year. That makes me happy.

In case you wonder: yes, that is an incredibly small crèche there. Joseph looks like Gimli. I get a kick out of it.


The New Moon Movie

Lou took me to see this a few weeks ago, and as a movie review post tends to take a lot of time to write, I've procrastinated. I did get a short piece up at The Hog's Head celebrating the faithfulness of the movie to the book, but here I'll talk details. Spoilers ahead!

New Moon being my favorite novel of the four, the movie could have seriously bombed for me. It did not. I liked it, and so did Lou. (Lou, good man, likes the Twilight movies better than the Potter movies. So do I, though in a battle of the books, I think Potter will always win for me.)

The four blank chapters in the novel, titled according to the four months they represent, could have been very difficult to communicate in movie format. Weitz and crew did a fantastic job.

The worst part of the movie experience for me: Sitting in front of the sort of girl who gives Twilight fans a bad name. She kept up a steady run of insinuating commentary throughout the film--out loud. 'Really,' I wanted to tell her, 'I know both the leading boys took their shirts off--but I managed to sit through it without swooning. Can't you?'

Though I consider myself firmly Team Edward, I have to say that the movie (and Taylor Lautner's good work in his role) made Jacob seem a lot more relatable than Edward. Not so in the book. That scene in Eclipse where Bella breaks her hand punching Jacob in the jaw? Yeah, I'm right there with her on that.

Favorite scene: The little flash-forward where a transformed Bella runs with Edward through the trees. Kristen Stewart makes a lovely sparkly vampire.

I found all the cinematography quite beautiful, but especially the vampire and werewolf action scenes, which usually happened in the forests. Being from the Pacific Northwest, I love getting to see this area displayed so splendidly on the big screen.

Leaving out Catherine Hardwicke's old-movie-style clips made for a little discontinuity between the films, but New Moon was still too well shot for that to greatly bother me.

Charlie and Carlisle (Billy Burke and Peter Facinelli, respectively) gave flawless performances, as always.

Bella jumping on the back of the stranger's motorcycle made my one big quibble with the movie itself. She rides off with a catcalling guy she doesn't know ... and he brings her back? Hardly believable.

I did miss Carlisle actually stating his belief that he and his family are not necessarily damned. At least Bella said it.

The Volturi scene had too much action in it for me, but Dakota Fanning makes a perfect Jane. My goodness, that girl can act.

Overall rating: Definitely worth the $9 it cost to see it. At least, for those of us who like Twilight. Feel free to add your own impressions in the comments.


Busy Day and Vonnegut Quote

Attempted day revision results:

I made it all the way till after lunch without checking email and all the way to late afternoon without checking Facebook. The world did not fall apart. I still floundered in the revision process, but at least I did so for several hours.

Amusing quote:

"Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae."--Kurt Vonnegut


Revising Days

Maybe I need to revise my days, as well as my novel.

For instance, if every morning I skipped right over checking my four email accounts and Facebook and Google Reader, and went right away into working on my story, then I might get more done and with less distractions. By evening my brain has worn thin and I have a lot of other things to do. If I saved email checking till then, I wouldn't give my best energy to responding to threads and writing up little items and chasing links to anything that might make me a better writer--or a more well-informed citizen--or less curious.

Actually, I do myself a little injustice there, at least since November ended. I've been very good about not getting lost in the internet maze during the day. Many times I don't even get around to reading most of my Google Reader, I just clear it out. That may be a shameful thing for a blogger to say.

But I'm floundering a bit in the revision process, and part of that is just distraction; failure to focus long enough to actually set a plan and follow it properly.

For tonight, my brain needs a little break. Wednesdays are busy, and I've kept on the move since 6:45 AM. I plan to to take a little time to rest and read; then I'll try to give my attention to storytelling for awhile. Maybe tomorrow I can try revising my day.


Currently Reading: Interworld

Authors: Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

I must say, Gaiman and Reaves can write. Gaiman is the author of many well-known stories, including Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and Stardust; Reaves is a television writer who has also done two of the Star Wars books. Their first couple of pages convinced me to bring Interworld home from the library, and I had it read in two days.

The book follows the tale of Joey Harker, a teenage boy with a malformed sense of direction (I can sympathize, being of the "whichever way I think something is, you should actually take the other way to find it" persuasion.) Joey gets lost in town and accidentally walks into another dimension. It's a fascinating story. But the ending perplexed me. Spoiler alert!

Interworld doesn't have a bad ending, just a mildly unsatisfactory one. It left me uncertain of how to rate the book in my own imagination. I enjoyed the writing, the conflict, the juxtaposition of science and magic--really well done--and the character choices. The great escape scene had me totally hooked in ... and then the last couple of pages just fell flat for me. I wanted the main character to receive healing and recompense for his efforts. Instead, as C.S. Lewis said, "if you do one good deed your reward is usually to be set to do another and harder and better one" ... and that worked great in Lewis' The Horse and His Boy, where Shasta/Cor has to save Narnia and Archenland after running at a lion, because he finds his father in the process and eventually becomes a king and gets the girl.

In Interworld, it's the lonely triumph of the hero working with a team of versions of himself and an uncertain future. While the characters are lovable in the book, the idea that leaves me with feels a little nightmarish.

The "Hero/ine learns to be self-reliant" ending may have as much or more intrinsic worth as "Boy gets girl and they ride off into the sunset", but it cannot be quite as fulfilling. Oh well. Interworld makes a good read, anyway.


The Genre Question

This is not the first time I've said that I do not normally think much about genre while writing. Not to say that I don't keep in mind that a story must abide by certain rules, or that for marketing's sake it needs to fit at least loosely into some accepted category. I just have never gotten into genre loyalty, and many of my favorite books don't like to be stacked neatly into labeled boxes.

Since I have yet to query, let alone get published, my ideas may belong in the category of "Kids, don't try this at home." Still, as a picky first-time reader and an insatiable re-reader, someone who likes books from science fiction and (clean) romance and fantasy and literary fiction, etc., but hasn't found any genre regularly satisfactory, I write what I would like to read. Classification and focus come in the second draft.

After several days going over the scenes and characters in my NaNoWriMo novel, and after reading a lot about the fantasy genre by those who read and write it, I've realized a couple of things about my book. First, I know the age group to which it should be marketed. Second, it doesn't fall exactly into the category I thought it did--and it's better this way, at least as I have written it. It would take a much deeper rewrite and a thorough shift in tone to get it to the genre I had thought of, but I like the tone and nature of the story as I have it now.

As someone working in the nebulous land between fantasy and fairy tale, I found myself intrigued by the answers.com article on the subject. I don't know that I agree with all the theories in there, but I do have a better idea of where this project stands.


Currently Falling Asleep

... and must rise at the unholy hour of o'dark-thirty in the morning, so apologies for the short post.

I need to spend the next several days helping out my family while my mom visits my grandma in Florida, which will likely decrease my computer time by at least ninety-five percent. The middle of next week may pass before I can blog again. We'll see.

In the mean time, if you haven't seen the following video by a guy who has made a YouTube name for himself out of things along the lines of transparent angling ferrets, you should. It makes me laugh.


Austenian Morality

Lou told me the other night that I would definitely want to read this article about Jane Austen and modern sensibility. I read it, and he was right. As someone who enjoys Austen's books in part because morals get mixed in with the romance and humor, I loved the piece.
"Austen lived on the cusp of the 18th-century Augustan and 19th-century Romantic ages. In our own time, nearly every song, advertisement and movie is based on Romantic principles. No matter how much we may enjoy the "felicities of domestic life," as Austen put it in "Persuasion," we still feel the enormous Romantic pull to do something more heroic and intense. Rather than digesting a good dinner while conversing with friends, we should be out forging the consciousness of our race in the smithy of our soul, or some damn thing. I don't really want to forge the consciousness of my race, but at the same time I don't want to miss out on all that Romanticism offers. This is where Austen comes in, for she is an Augustan familiar with Romanticism, which makes her more useful than a modern writer in helping us face the Romantic challenge. Only she can so credibly show us that it is possible to have moderation and deep feeling, good dinners and good poetry."


Winter Plans

The golden leaves have almost all drifted from the three weeping willow trees I watch, and I miss warm air. Did I ever sit on this couch in a skort and T-shirt? That taxes my imagination now. I have currently armed myself against the cold with plenty of heavy clothing and a fleece blanket.

Thankfully, the Douglas fir out back pledges to keep a little green amid all the gray of winter. Lighting a lot of candles helps with the early darkness, and in just two weeks, the days start getting lighter instead of darker. In the mean time, I have things to do.

With NaNoWriMo over, I dutifully put my novel away and told myself not to look at it until January. Everybody says wait to revise, anywhere from a few weeks to a year. I lasted until last Friday. NaNo gave me momentum; I couldn't bear to lose that now, or to shift my energy to another project and wind up putting this one on indefinite hold. Out came the file, and I used up the rest of our copy paper printing the manuscript and started re-reading and marking off the scenes.

As some of the authors' sites I've visited recommend setting a date for the completion of revision, I've chosen March 20, the first day of spring. Arbitrary? Maybe, but March sounded about right anyway. That gives me a focus and purpose for these winter months, when even with the furnace running almost constantly, my hands and feet stay cold. I'll write scenes and slash poor lines and fix plot problems--of which I have noted sixty--as fast as my chilly fingers can manage.

For the single most helpful article I've found on revising a novel, click over to this page by Holly Lisle. Second place goes to Steve Thompson.


Great Things

Taking a break from my string of I-haven't-thought-about-anything-but-novel-in-weeks posts, we return to tales of the trip to Rome. A picture may be worth a thousand words (a writer's least favorite aphorism), but no picture can well describe how utterly humongous the old buildings are. These pictures, however, give it a try. Think, for instance, of the front of St. Peter's:

... and then look at me, standing at the base of one of the columns.

From the inside, we see Bernini's baldacchino (the dark canopy structure in the middle):

They say that the baldacchino would actually fit inside the little hole at the top of the dome, seen at the bottom of this picture:

Lou shot that picture from the base of the dome, after climbing three hundred some stairs to get that far (it takes another two hundred to get to the top of the dome.) Here you have the view down from the same level:

Not that the Vatican has the corner on massiveness. The "giant wedding cake", otherwise known as a monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, does what it can:

... and there's nothing particularly shrimpy about the Colosseum, either.


Naming Characters, Part II: Fantasy

Despite my adoration of the world of faerie, as seen in numberless re-reads of things like Harry Potter and Narnia and The Little White Horse, I honestly do not read a lot of fantasy fiction. I have several reasons for my lack of loyalty to the genre, with "impossible character names" at the top of the list.

Fantasy and sci-fi character naming is a whole art in itself, encompassing linguistic study and all sorts of rules about consistency between worlds and things. Unfortunately, to me it tends to read like walking into one of those neighborhoods where the parents attempt to outdo each other on weird names for their children. The writers of fantasy often draw names from foreign sources or make them up altogether, which makes the characters immediately more difficult to identify with and almost always less memorable.

Admittedly, Tolkien's Middle-Earth work is a linguistic achievement like no other. But even for Tolkien I had to read The Lord of the Rings twice and watch all the movies before I could remember the minor characters' names. As for Potter, I read the first four books before finally asking someone how to pronounce Hermione, and it then took me ages to get "Hermie-own" out of my head. Even Hermione's own attempt to explain the pronunciation of her name to Viktor Krum did not help much; it needed emphasis. Her-MY-oh-nee.

I don't really think about genre when writing, but having several worlds puts me in the category of fantasy--high fantasy, of all things, since there is no earth-as-we-know-it. Which leaves me with a conundrum: Should I attempt linguistic genius? Or make the names memorable and relatable?

Right now I have chosen the latter, with some respect for the former. In an attempt at both memorability and consistency, I'll give the natives of any world Anglicized names derived from the same root language. I actually have comparatively few named characters; unfortunately, most of the minor ones need renaming. But Mr. Ian Woon gets to keep his name.

"But Jenna, one would think you'd have gone through all this before you wrote the book!"

Right. Well, one would think.


Naming Characters

Current occupation: finding ways to work on my story without actually looking at it. Except for the parts I type from memory to try out different character names.

In picking names for my primary triptych, at three different times and from three different sources, I somehow managed to come up with three names beginning with the letter A. Nothing wrong with A, but all conventional wisdom says "Don't start multiple main characters' names with the same first letter." It makes fast reading harder and more annoying.

I did not discover my mistake until having thrown myself head-first into actually writing the book, and now I am faced with renaming at least one very important character. The siblings can perhaps survive with sharing initials, but the best friend has to go through a change, and after writing the entire first draft with her name very fixed in my mind, I might as well try to rename one of my own friends.

Every different name makes a slight difference in the person you imagine, and having officially made up my mind to change that girl's name, it remains now to be seen whether her personality is going to be seriously affected.

Ever stared at yourself in the mirror and wondered what other names you could have successfully pulled off? Maybe I am just weird.

For an enjoyable article on naming characters,  click here. Maybe giving the main character's brother a nickname like "Flash" or "Blaster" would help. Not either of those, though. Yipes.


Funny Line of the Week

I miss my story. (No, that's not supposed to be funny.)

This was somebody's signature line on the NaNo boards:

"If life gives you lemons, make orange juice. Let the rest of the world wonder how the $%?#! you managed it."

All right, I know I'm overwrought and even more easily amused than usual ... but that just makes me howl.